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Battery Powered Lawn Mower and Other Cordless Yard Tools: What You Need to Know

Do they make the cut?

FH16MAR_YARDTL_01-2Family Handyman
Cordless yard tools have always been far more convenient than corded or gas models. But early models didn't always deliver on performance. Some weren't powerful enough to cut heavy growth, and many times the batteries ran out of power before the job was done. That's changing. The latest generation of 40-, 58- and even 80-volt lithium batteries is more powerful and runs longer. The tools are more robust, too, so they can do the work of gas-powered tools. If you were disappointed by lower-voltage tools in the past, it may be time to consider today's higher-voltage models.

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Can they replace gas and corded electric models?

Cordless Lawn Mower

($275 to $800). Walk-behind cordless lawn mowers can directly replace a gas mower for use on many urban or suburban lawns. They’re also great for touching up small areas on rural lots where lawn tractors are simply too big to get the job done.

Cordless mowers are lighter than gas-powered units, so they’re easier to push and maneuver. But if you have a large lot or steep hills or physical limitations that affect your ability to push, pass on the cordless walk-behind mower and stick with your gas-powered, self-propelled machine.

Cordless Chain Saw

($200 to $550). Cordless electric chain saws are great for occasional use to fell a tree or trim some limbs. But the battery won’t last long enough to cut multiple trees or to turn an entire tree into firewood. For that work, you still need a gas chain saw.

Can They Handle Your Yard?

Cordless yard tools with voltage ratings of 40 or more are definitely powerful enough for most jobs. But there’s no getting around the fact that battery run-time is still the limiting factor. When you’re deciding whether a cordless electric yard tool could replace your gas or corded electric tool, consider two things:

    1. How much run-time do you need? Time how long it takes you to do the job with your current machine. Then shop for a tool that has sufficient run-time. If you need more run-time, you can always buy a second battery ($140 to $210, depending on the voltage and brand). Or you can take a break and let the battery recharge (sometimes in as few as 30 minutes).
    2. Does your yard get out of control? Be honest about how often you let your yard get out of hand. If you try to cut very long grass or heavy growth, a cordless tool may not have the run-time or raw power to get the job done.

With those caveats in mind, here’s our advice based on frank discussions with the tool manufacturers, coupled with editors’ actual experiences.

Can they replace gas and corded electric models?

Cordless Leaf Blower

($150 to $300). Cordless leaf blowers are great for quick driveway, sidewalk or patio cleanup after mowing. They’re so much more convenient than gas or electric models. You’d be surprised at how often you’d use it to clean the garage, shed, deck and shop, as well as outdoor furniture.

However, to move large piles of leaves, you’d have to run the blower at full power, and that would reduce run-time to about 20 minutes. If it takes longer than that to round up your leaves, either buy a second battery or keep your gas or corded electric model for the big cleanup. Use a cordless blower for quick, easy jobs.

Cordless Sring Trimmer

($120 to $300). For most urban or suburban yards, a cordless electric string trimmer (40 volts or higher) can easily replace a gas or corded electric trimmer. It can handle occasional patches of heavy growth, but if you regularly let your lawn grow too long or have a large rural lot, you’ll need an additional battery.

Cordless Hedge Trimmer

($150 to $300). Cordless electric hedge trimmers are a perfect replacement for corded electric trimmers. They can handle heavy cuts, and the battery lasts long enough to handle most yards.

Tips for maximum battery life and value

Get your money’s worth

  • Buy batteries cheaper. Wait for a sale. Home centers and hardware stores typically put cordless electric tools and replacement batteries on sale for Father’s Day, Black Friday and Christmas. Sometimes the cheapest way to buy an additional battery is to buy a battery/tool combo on sale.
  • Store and charge the battery indoors. High heat (in your garage or car) and freezing temperatures dramatically reduce the life of the battery. And, charging the battery in high heat conditions or in direct sunlight also greatly reduces battery life and increases charging time.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding charging. Some want you to store the battery on a powered charger when it’s not in use. Others specifically state that you must remove the battery from the charger as soon as it’s charged.
  • Keep your receipt. You’ll need it to get warranty coverage on your battery or yard tool. Since most receipts are printed on heat-sensitive paper that fades over time, make a photocopy of the original receipt and tape the duplicate to the charger so you’ll have it if you need warranty repairs.

Buying tips

Compare run-times, but beware…

Some tools have adjustable power settings. And as you’d expect, the battery’s run-time depends on the setting. So when you compare the run-times given by manufacturers, make sure you know which power setting they used.

Start at the store

Visit a home center, garden center, hardware store or dealer and get recommendations based on your lot size and configuration. Pick up the machines and compare the weight and balance (with the battery in place). Then check out other brands at other stores and online.

Some manufacturers list two run-times based on high and low settings. Other manufacturers list a single run-time, and it’s often based on the low power setting. If you don’t know which power setting the manufacturer used, you might be disappointed. A battery with a one-hour run-time at low power, for example, can run out of juice in as few as 15 minutes at high power. If the manufacturer doesn’t list both in the specs, call its toll-free number and ask.

Don’t get hooked on battery specs

Remember that battery voltage and amp-hour ratings tell you about the battery only; they aren’t necessarily good indicators of the tool’s power or run-time. For example, here’s what we found when we compared two cordless electric leaf blowers: The higher-voltage model and the lower-voltage tool had nearly identical cfm and air velocity ratings. But the high-voltage tool was much heavier and had a shorter battery warranty and higher battery replacement cost. So it’s smart to compare models based on all the factors: initial cost; performance specs like run-time; battery and tool warranty; replacement battery costs; and weight and balance.

Compare return policies

Some retail stores offer a 90-day return policy, while online stores usually limit returns to just 30 days. You’ll also likely have to pay the return shipping costs and a restocking fee if the unit isn’t defective.

Read customer reviews

Don’t rely solely on manufacturers’ specs. Read customer reviews (the good and the bad) to get a feel for how well the tool actually performs. But keep in mind that many users have unrealistic expectations for run-time, leading them to downgrade a tool’s performance. If the battery is rated for 30 minutes and the reviewer expected it to last 45 minutes, that’s not a manufacturing defect.

Follow the manufacturer’s start-up charging procedures

Most new batteries require at least a 12-hour charge before use. Some even require three to five charge cycles before the battery reaches full operation. If you fudge on the manufacturer’s charging instructions, you’ll be disappointed in the run-time. However, if you’ve followed the instructions to the letter and you’re not happy with the tool’s performance, return it right away.